You’ve probably seen lots of it over the course of your career, but is it all really necessary? Also, what’s being done to reduce it, and whose responsibility is it to make sure that happens? Josh Corradi-Remi, commercial manager at Ecoveritas, answers this month’s big question.
Q: Let’s start with a quick explanation of Ecoveritas. What do you do?
A: We’ve been around since the 90s, helping companies comply with producer responsibility packaging waste to be specific. In years gone by, this was primarily for department stores, but it’s grown since then to include grocery retailers, FMCGs, and different kinds of industries.
Q: The fact that you exist demonstrates how complicated this topic is. Why is it such an issue right now?
A: Well, it’s a bit of a multifaceted answer. Packaging is a fantastic thing – the only thing wrong with it is how we treat it at its end of life. Because of its sheer abundance, it ends up becoming an environmental issue. Consumers are more aware now of its environmental impact, and all materials have to be considered.
That includes paper, glass, aluminum, steel, plastics, wood and textiles. Eventually, they all become waste. Particularly in the UK, the recycling and reuse element is still not where it needs to be yet, so extended producer responsibility (EPR) – and the reform around that is the mechanism to try and improve how we treat packaging at its end of life.
Q: For those that don’t know, what exactly is EPR?
A: EPR’s goal is all about diverting waste streams away from landfill and encouraging a more circular approach to packaging, like reusability and recyclability. It’s been around in some form or another since the 90s, but the world’s a different place now. We are moving into a new era which will put much more responsibility on the literal producers of waste. So before, the obligation for handling packaging was split through the supply chain. Moving forward, 100% of the obligation will be given to what is now called “producer types”.
Essentially, one business picks up all the obligation for all the packaging they handle depending on where they sit in the supply chain. Under extended producer responsibility, the brand owner will now need to take responsibility for that packaging because the brand owners have ultimately the choice on what packaging they use.
Q: So, if a supplier packages up their product and sends it out with their name on it, they’re 100% responsible for the packaging?
A: The simple answer is “yes”. If your brand is on the packaging, that would be 100% your responsibility to declare under EPR. Where it might differ is when you start to look at the different layers of packaging.
Q: What are those?
A: There are actually three different layers of packaging: primary, secondary and transit. Primary would typically be something that’s directly around the product. If you think grocery retail, anything you buy as a consumer from a grocery retailer is in primary packaging. Secondary would be anything like a carton layer. Then you’ve got transit packaging – that’s anything like pallets, shrink wrap, banding, and corner pads. All that packaging needs to be considered.
You have to look at it from a component level, so you have to treat every individual packaging component seperately. And, you’ll be obligated in different ways on different packaging components at different layers. Like I said earlier, it becomes really multifaceted.
Q: So, for installers at the end of the process, who have the product as well as all those different layers of packaging, what are they supposed to do with it?
A: If you’re an installer, you’re the end user of the product and you’ll typically have no obligation under EPR. The responsibility would lie further up the supply chain with the supplier. Unfortunately, aside from dropping a product off and then taking the waste back, there’s not really a way for suppliers to know 100% right now if it’s been disposed of in the right way.
Q: So how do we ensure that packaging doesn’t just become the moral obligation of anyone who opens the box?
A: We have some regulations coming in called the consistent collections regulations. These aim to standardise waste collection across all local authorities, so all commercial businesses will be required to separate material by plastics, cardboard and food waste, and have that collected by a licensed waste carrier and sent off to a recycling centre. Without these regulations coming in, EPR doesn’t really work because you have to have a mechanism to collect the waste at its end of life so we can calculate what producers need to pay.
Q: So is there no responsibility at all for the consumer who disposes of the packaging at the end?
A: If we take kitchens aside, most end users of packaging are consumers and citizens. Going forwards, you’ll need to split out the levels of packaging by primary and secondary in transit. Secondary and transit packaging materials will have to be disposed of via a commercial mechanism, so if you’re selling primary packaging, it’s classed as household, and producers will be required to fund local authority collections and make investments into anti-litter campaigns.
Commercial businesses will essentially have to do the right things with waste, whereas with citizens – just because there are so many of them – it’s a little bit harder to manage what they’re going to do. So we rely on the local authorities to collect the material and make sure the packaging is being collected and picked up and our streets remain clear.
You can listen to the full discussion with Remi on episode four of season nine of The kbbreview Podcast. Go to kbbreview.com/podcast to see all the episodes.